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In the Manisa region of Turkey, archaeobotanical evidence (ancient seeds) excavated from the local sites of Kaymakçı and Sardis attests to the region’s fertility and sustainable land management for over 4000 years. Today, increasing urbanization and participation in the globalized food economy is leading to dramatic changes in the region’s foodscape. Local and traditional foodways are falling out of favour to be replaced by imported and processed items. Unhealthy western fast food outlets are an ever-increasing sight. Despite ease of access and the often lower costs of store-bought items, traditional practices are our best global hope for a secure, sustainable and nutritious food supply as they are healthier and more climate-friendly than the purchased alternative. 

The SOFRA project aims to study, record and celebrate historical and traditional food practices in the Manisa region of Turkey during this period of significant cultural flux. Taking a longue durée approach, we examine archaeobotanical data to understand different diets, ancient methods of sustainable food production, and climatic change in the Gediz Valley from the Bronze Age through the Late Roman period. Using archival and ethnographic data we examine patterns and distinct phases in which food and eating practices (i.e., cultivation, food storage, traditional diet and processing practices) evolved in the region during the last century. How have these changes, combined with neoliberal agricultural policies and the globalized food economy affected traditional food acquisition and consumption practices during the last couple of decades? The project seeks to understand the experiences and agency of women, as they are disproportionally affected by these changes. In Turkey, food processing and cooking belong mostly to the female realm. Women are therefore tackling an ongoing struggle with modernity, namely finding a solution to the desire to continue to practice traditional foodways yet simultaneously modernize and increasingly enter the work force. What techniques have they found to mitigate this struggle and at times turn it to their advantage? What will the future of Turkish food look like? Are there any lessons that can be applied to other nations experiencing a shift in diet? 

The results of the project will be featured in a live and digital exhibition held at Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (ANAMED) in Istanbul and a cookbook published by Koç University Press. 

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